All different walks of life converged in Oakdale, California over the weekend during the Autumnal Equinox for Symbiosis Gathering; a period of time where the balance between the light and dark inside you, and around you, dances in harmony one last time. As the impending Winter slowly overpowers the days of Summer, thousands gathered at the Woodward Reservoir for a festival that was much more about a way of life, than it was music. Their plea for respectful patron-ship echoed loudly in the festival community and came to fruition through careful planning and preparation. With a deep passion for Environmentalism and sustainable living, the festival organizers provided a space that allowed for transformative experiences in the realms of art, music, and community. Brain stimulation ran rampant throughout the different activities scheduled throughout the five days of “Symbi,” as it came to be called.
A morning typically consisted of a monumental sunrise followed by some organic/vegan/REGULAR festival grub, and then a hose down in the lake. Once in the lake, it was hard to resist morning beers, then morning beers quickly led to mid morning cordials, and you had to have a cocktail with lunch, thus, a pregame was born. The crowded camping environment led to making quick friends and wandering herds of humans commonly migrated through your camp momentarily. With the venue so close to camping, you frequently visited the grounds for yoga, life enrichment workshops, and some early sets. A nap was essential, though, in order to be ready for the evenings festivities because as soon as the sun went down, the lights turned on, the sound turned up, and the freaks came out.
Standard festival attire for this festival was whatever the most random articles of clothing you had lying around your house were before you came. Everyone’s outfits were so out there that they started to look the same. Individualism was at an all time high, to say the least. With so many different tastes represented in the attendees, it was impressive that so many different styles of music were available. Seven different stages boasted an eclectic lineup of Tech, Trance, Live, House, Trap, Future Pop, and Experimental. Scattered throughout the festival were statues and different objects for you to interact with. A giant metal wolf had a hollow stomach perfect for private pow-wows, a vibrating egg gave homage to those seeking shelter and relaxation, and an electric tree served as a lookout for the Empire of Love stage.
Other stages included The Cove, which was a mediterranean looking bamboo stage that set up perfectly for live shows with a DJ booth attached to it’s left. An alien looking middle eastern combination identified The Pantheon, which created an intimate environment for solo performers. The Juke Shack was the primary DJ stage that was off in it’s own dimly lit world. It was half of a barn buried in tall grass that had a haunted light setup and a sawed off back end that housed many a full kegs for the back stage audience. In-between the venue and your campsite was The Living Room, which became the perfect comfy comedown chamber. Empire of Love was on the tip of the peninsula and you had to travel through a tiki marsh to gain entry to the spoils of this stage. A giant pyramid was the housing for the different DJ’s and it’s all consuming light setup made it look out of this world. A bohemian Bingo Stage was erected for worldly performances of scandalous party music. Last but not least, The Big Island marked the main stage where a spectacular light and stage setup reminded you of why this festival drew such large names on the bill.
Some stand out moments were the 1, 2, 3, punch of Cashmere Cat to Lunice to RL Grime, Chet Faker’s performance, a three hour Lee Foss set, The Dirtybird takeover at The Cove, and Brodinksi’s performance at the Juke Shack. You spent most of the festival on sensory overload as the threat of too many activities plagued your overheated brain. Different vendors made available assorted trinkets and gifts for yourself, or those you wished could have been there, and artists scattered throughout the grounds were drawing/painting as they pleased. If you didn’t catch a sunrise set at least one of the mornings, you were missing out, although those wandering the festival between 4-6 a.m. were not exactly the most stable of people. Sleep was sparse but you made do, and the rains on the third day made the camping environment slightly more uncomfortable than camping already is. You would walk in with a plan, and then as soon as you made it in, ADHD took over and distractions did what they do best. By the end of the trip you started to notice you recognized people, and small scenes began to develop at the different stages.
All in all spirits remained high as souls all over the festival woke up. Every aspect of your being was nurtured and a sense of fulfillment washed over you as the weekend went on. Camaraderie fortified your time at Symbiosis as new friendships were forged in the spirit of the festival. There were two types of people who attended Symbiosis, those who went to Burning Man, and those who went to Coachella, but in the end we all became people who attended Symbiosis. I would have to say my life changed for the better after attending this festival, not every moment was straight out of a dream, and you had to force a smile at some points, but that’s a part of life, and accepting that is what paved the way for the rest of the party. Getting out of my comfort zone and exploring the different facets that compose my being are what helped me take the most out of this experience. After talking with my friends and explaining my weekend to them, it would appear I’ve turned most of them off, and while of course there were some horror stories, it’s nothing that can’t be fixed for the second time around. If there’s one thing I learned about Symbiosis Gathering, it’s that festival life is about so much more than the acts that perform on stage, it’s about making sure you become one with everything in the environment. Itch your scratches, be curious, explore, try new things, sounds, food, because you never know what sides of you might wake up.